Archaeologists Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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A person whose career lies in ruins!
- Anon

An archaeologist is a person who seeks to learn as much as they can about the past by examining artifacts, buildings and written evidence.

Highly qualified professional dedicated to getting to the bottom of things. This may be a local historical mystery; it might be a large grotty hole in a field outside Saffron Walden; but, more likely than not, it'll be a glass of Old Grunkle's Snorting Inkspot or similar, in a pub within a short wheelbarrow-trundle of the A303 in Wiltshire. To pass as one of the above, a beard, small trowel, or television documentary on a minority channel are now essential accessories.
- Posted anonymously to the Channel 4 Time Team website forum.

Becoming an Archaeologist

Archaeology is not a career for those who hate the cold and wet. Archaeological digs are conducted in spring, summer, autumn, winter or whenever the developers feel like getting them on site, so you will often find yourself up to your waist in muck and water.

To actually get a job, phone up your nearest archaeology unit and volunteer. This usually is not a problem as free labour is always welcome. After a few months, ask them for money. After a while they might give in and pay you (if they think you are any good!). This is usually measured in how much mud you can shift in one day.

Eventually you may think about going to university, as everyone around you appears to have a degree or two. Since you'll find yourself working alongside BAs, BScs, MAs, MScs and PhDs, all at a site assistant level, it is worth noting how much difference to your career prospects these pieces of paper make. This is probably due to the fact that too many people are prepared to work for not very much money in a job they enjoy most of the time.

What Qualifications Do I Need?

It has been know for people to become archaeologists without receiving any formal training or studying for a qualification, but this is a rare occurrence these days. Many archaeological organisations willing to pay money for diggers require a minimum of a degree in a history, geography or science subject.

The Council for British Archaeology maintains a list of universities and qualifications which will help you in your quest.

Useful Websites and Addresses

Around the World:

For adults in the UK:

The Council for British Archaeology,
Bowes Morrell House,
111 Walmgate,
York, YO1 2UA

The BRITARCH Website

For 9-16-year olds in the UK:

The Young Archaeologists Club,
Bowes Morrell House,
111 Walmgate,
York, YO1 2UA

Email the YAC or visit The YAC Website

Tools of the Trade

Archaeology isn't always cheap... There are a few essentials which a good archaeologist shouldn't be without:

  • 4" Work Hardened Steel Trowel (single piece, not welded!)
  • Arrow Leaf Trowel (used for delicate excavation work)
  • Dental Pick (used for very delicate excavation work)
  • Shovel
  • Line Level
  • Plumb Bob
  • Kneeling Mat
  • Hand Tape (protects your nail varnish)
  • 1" Paint Brush
  • 2" Paint Brush
  • Hank of Twine (you never know when you'll need string)
  • Pair of Bulldog Clips
  • Assorted Finds Bags
  • Assorted Finds Labels
  • Sharp Knife
  • Duct Tape
  • Permanent Marker Pen
  • Toothbrush (for cleaning pot shards, not teeth!)
  • Hat (For those rare occasions when the sun does shine)
  • All in a Large Tool Box
  • The latest copy of The Good Pub Guide

It is always a good idea to mark your tools as they have a habit of going missing on an archaeological dig... 'Can I borrow...?' being the most common last words heard.

To mark your tools, don't use electrical tape; when it gets wet it falls off. Instead, dip your tool handle into first one pot of enamel paint, leave to dry, then plunge into another (different coloured) enamel paint making sure you don't completely cover the first. The result is a hard wearing, and unique mark which people won't confuse.

Is There an Alternative to Digging?

Experimental Archaeologist

An experimental archaeologist is a serious researcher into ancient technologies. He or she believes the best way to understand lost civilisations is not merely to dig them up or read about them, but attempt to recreate the whole shebang.

Whenever possible, they will do this by employing lethal-looking axes, felling huge trees, wielding razor-sharp swords, stoking roaring furnaces, hefting big hammers, firing deadly long bows, letting off booming cannons, releasing flaming vegetables from trebuchets, and generally using any other highly dangerous bits of kit they can get their hands on, and if they go BANG! very loudly, so much the better.

These are the kind of people who spent childhood simulating earthquakes by shaking Lego buildings to bits.


An historian is a specialist in the uncovering of information through the study of textual sources rather than fieldwork. The historian's research perfectly complements, and frequently guides, the work of the field archaeologist... but, in no way whatsoever do the latter regard the former as a bunch of big girls' blouses who hare off indoors as soon as it gets a bit nippy or there's a drop of rain. Oh no!

The aspiring historian should kit him/herself out with appropriate equipment: a notebook; various pens and pencils; a phonemic chart of all those tongue-bending Old and Middle English vowels, a natty Panama hat, a fine line in stylish bow ties and assorted woolly cardigans. Oh, and a book of Norse sagas filled with gory descriptions of people having their innards ripped out for when things need livening up.

Architectural Historian

A specialist in the uncovering of information through the study of upstanding buildings, rather than excavation. The Architectural Historian will frequently be found assessing buildings such as monasteries, pubs, castles, pubs, churches, chapels, pubs and, time allowing, pubs.


A scientific researcher who makes no bones about his/her job. Spends much time staring into empty eye sockets, studying fleshless skeletons and analysing rictus grins. This ideally qualifies them to work as a dresser at a Miss World competition if looking for a change of career.

Specialist Sciences

If the idea of calling yourself 'Doctor' and/or wearing a white lab coat appeals, them you might like to consider one of the following: Radio Carbon Dating, Dendrochronology, Human Paleontology, Somatology, Ethnography, Ethnology, Linguistics, Psychology, Geophysics, Conservation, Thermoluminescence, Chemical Analysis, Quaternary Science and Palaeoecology... and many others.

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